Surreal Female Convicts’ Road trip!
A year has passed since Nami’s last imprisonment. A year she spent in complete solitude, deep down between the walls of an isolated dungeon. A year of torture, rape & humilation. But her spirit is not broken yet. When a prominent figure arrives to inspect the prison facility, Nami sees another opportunity to attempt another break-out. And this time, she’s not alone…
The first film in this acclaimed Japanese exploitation cycle, entitled Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972), literally perplexed me because it was such an atypical WIP accomplishment. It had a great story, a likable heroine character, stylish photography and – shockingly enough – only a minimal amount of nudity and perversion. The second entry in the series, entitled Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, actually astonished me even more! This time because it’s such an atypical sequel. The formula of the original film clearly worked, so you would expect and even respect director Shunya Ito and his crew to embroider on the same successful elements, but they don’t. In fact, the concept is completely different and easily the most innovative one ever used in a WIP film. Most of the action takes place outside the prison walls, during an escape that gradually changes into a wild and surreal girl-power road trip, spear-headed by the seven female convicts, across the desolate Japanese countryside.
Seen from a certain viewpoint, the script’s drastic change of direction is actually rather logic, since the protagonist’s engaging background story properly ended in part one. Nami Matsushima (aka Matsu the Scorpion, Meiko Kaji reprising her role from the first film) successfully extracted her vengeance and returned to prison to serve a deserved sentence this time. But still, the completely alternative set-up is courageously ambitious and not just the story lines vastly changed, but nearly everything else as well, including atmosphere, imagery, editing, the depiction of violence and even Matsu’s entire persona! She now fully embodies bitterness and ferocity, which is masterfully illustrated through Ito‘s visionary direction. Matsu barely speaks five complete sentences during the whole film, yet her stares penetrate through the thickest skulls and she catches each suspicious sound in massive stereo.
Since her virulent escapades in the first film, which even cost the headmaster his right eye, Matsu spent the last year in a moist pit underneath the prison. She’s allowed one day of daylight when a government inspector comes to visit and this is already enough for her to cause a major hoedown. Severe punishment ensues, but Matsu and six others manage to escape. Their journey turns into a crusade of retaliation against all (male) foes. The convicts’ “road trip”, if you can refer to it like that, is truly surreal and artsy and often nightmarishly macabre! They encounter a witch who eerily narrates the women’s stories, comedic rapists on tour, numerous abstract and depressing tableaux and – last but not least – collective hatred. Especially the vicious Oba ( Kayoko Shiraishi) battles Matsu for the honor of most respected jailbird.
Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 features a lot of dreamy & addictive weirdness, intercut with the female convicts’ other escapades, but nonetheless the actual prison & revenge footage makes up for the most exciting scenes. Both the opening and climax are tremendously brilliant, and the surreal sequences in between are uniquely experimental and very accomplished. Arguably, these theatrically staged interludia might get in the way of the good old exploitative themes, but they are valuable additions that uplift the film far above the prison/revenge exploitation genre. Meiko Kaji‘s performance is once again marvelous and she receives excellent support from Kayoko Shiraishi (who’s overacting actually works) as Oba and Fumio Watanabe as the sadist head warden. Great stuff!
(Go to the Pinku V-rating)
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